Nine years ago I made the long journey from Italy to California to chase what many call the “American Dream.” I left my family behind, my culture, my language and pursued my dream of one day becoming a music teacher. As the years went by, I experienced first hand the feeling of isolation from my culture trying to blend in and slowly loosing my heritage. The wake up call came a couple years ago when my family brought to my attention that I had forgotten how to speak Italian! So I turned to what I knew best and began learning songs and folk dances from my own country to teach to the children in my classroom. The songs were welcomed with joy and through that I discovered my true calling—teaching multicultural music and movement to preschool age children.
You might have heard that music is a universal language and I couldn’t agree more. Children from different cultures will always sway, move or clap their hands to the sound of music regardless of its origin. Through children’s natural interest for music, I can spread the joy and appreciation for music and dance from countries around the world.
In the home and school settings, where only one language is spoken, it is a good idea to expose children regularly to the sounds of another language through music. Young children learn by being actively involved in the process, through exploring and experimenting, through copying and acting out. And so it is with learning songs from another culture that children can discriminate between sounds, which assist in the acquisition of language skills. By learning dances from other cultures, children develop physical skills as well as become more socially and emotionally competent.
Listening to the sounds of another language also encourages concentration. In time, it starts to make sense, in the same way that as babies we all learned to understand the spoken word. Introducing children to languages other than English cannot start soon enough, so why not do it with music? Far from confusing children, I am a big advocate that learning another language has numerous benefits. Learning a second or third language can improve cognitive skills, it promotes greater flexibility in thinking and it can actually enhance the learning of the mother tongue. Last but not least, it opens the door to other cultures and helps a child understand and appreciate people from other countries.
If you want some ideas to get your family started with multicultural music at home, here are a few suggestions:
– Check out Mama Lisa’s World International Music and Culture website at www.mamalisa.com
– Go to your local library and check out CD’s on world music, I really like the Putumayo collection!
In the next series of articles, I will explore music and dance for children from a variety of countries around the world.